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Is Cheap Old Navy Activewear Just as Strong in the Gym as Nike?

Don’t cramp my style by telling me I’m just paying for a stupid swoosh

As the budget brand in the portfolio of Gap Inc., Old Navy now means the same thing to many people that Kmart used to mean when its logo was slapped on a pair of jeans. The expectation is that the clothes are cheap, and unlikely to perform at the level of brands that are viewed as premium. 

Frankly, I was never much into the labels of clothes; my mother ensured that I would receive an unfiltered dosage of pre-teen taunting when she forced me to spend my middle school years wearing Spalding, Ewing and Xanthus brand shoes to school while all of my classmates were wearing Nike and Fila. 

Even so, it never seemed to stop me from dropping buckets on the majority of my middle-school peers, even when their daddies had splurged on Jordans for them. So obviously, what was on my feet did the trick, and the extra $100 (at least) that my classmates’ parents spent on footwear for their would-be ballers didn’t spare them the embarrassment of getting bodied by a swimmer in gym class. No, Mars… it doesn’t have to be the shoes.

With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to Old Navy’s line of activewear, and ask if there’s something critical that Old Navy’s workout gear is incapable of doing that only Nike, Under Armour and the other premium brands of gym attire can. 

First, though…

What is modern workout attire supposed to do for me?

Let’s start with a little history lesson: In the 1950s, references to men’s workout clothes were offered in two varieties — Light and Heavy. The “Light” ensemble usually consisted of a T-shirt and shorts, and the “Heavy” garb generally included a bulky sweatshirt and sweatpants.

Aside from those basics, there wasn’t a whole lot of science involved in either the manufacturing of the clothes, nor did the wearers of the workout apparel seem to be remotely concerned with the sense of style — or lack thereof — they conveyed to onlookers.

Case in point: Olympic hopeful Don Bragg, who would go on to capture a gold medal in the pole vault at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, was described as “fashionable” by the Philadelphia Inquirer for sporting workout clothes “consisting of long winter underwear, khaki shorts and an eight-hour beard.” Any man sporting such an ensemble at the gym nowadays — especially the khaki shorts — would be laughed right out of the overpriced juice bar. 

That does sound funny! So why is Don Bragg’s outfit no longer worth bragging about?

Because we’ve grown accustomed to the advancements made by apparel engineering without even realizing what was happening to us. Today, you instinctively recognize that spending an hour sweating into a cotton T-shirt and khaki shorts is going to leave you feeling waterlogged, with sopping-wet fibers scraping against your skin. To say nothing of the unsightly splotches on your khaki shorts, which will undoubtedly suggest to your fellow gym goers that you lack sufficient bladder control.

Modern workout clothes have been designed to clear away sweat. Actually, the verb most commonly used is “wick” — as in a candle wick, or better yet, John Wick. The fabric of workout apparel has been engineered to wick away meaningless droplets of sweat, just as effortlessly as John Wick wicks away mob henchmen. Most workout-friendly fabrics are made of nylon, polyester and acrylic — materials that possess sweat-wicking properties and don’t retain moisture the same way cotton would.

A quick gander at the materials used in Old Navy’s workout line reveals that the fabric used therein is of a wick-friendly variety (specifically, “Go-Dry Cool wicking technology”) — a big check mark in the wickability column. 

Okay… but is there more to it?

Yes, but there really isn’t that much more to it. Most modern workout garments are also expected to have capillary action, which manipulates your sweat to navigate through tiny holes in your clothing, and then outward to the surface of the clothing so that it can evaporate into the air. This allows the wearers of moisture-wicking clothes to feel lighter, as opposed to being weighed down by materials that become drenched with ever-increasing quantities of sweat.

I’m going to go ahead and give Old Navy the benefit of the doubt that when they say their fabric is “breathable” and “mesh,” they’re describing a capillary system for people who have never heard the term before. 

On top of that, Old Navy even goes the odor-elimination route by including “Go-Fresh odor control” in their activewear. Most garments promoted as “odor-eliminating” have been pre-treated with chemicals to prevent the growth of microbes. Those disrespectful microbes are what cause odors to incessantly emanate from your clothes until the day you finally get fed up and throw them into the garbage. Again, we’re going to presume that this is what Old Navy intends to convey through their Go-Fresh label — since the word “antimicrobial” employs far too many syllables for most people.

Thus far, the dark-blue brand is batting a thousand. I don’t see a problem with any of this.

So why is Nike activewear so expensive if it isn’t any different?

Hold on a second — I never said it wasn’t any different. Aside from some design, stitching and color differences, not to mention that nifty swoosh on the left chest, this Nike shirt offers UPF protection… because apparently physically shielding your skin from the sun isn’t enough to protect it from the sun anymore. Anyway, I’m sure those differences are worth an extra $20 or $30 per shirt to somebody, as long as they don’t mind paying quadruple the price for essentially the same article of clothing.

Seriously, though, I haven’t seen anything offered from Old Navy’s activewear line that is going to result in you being able to execute any fewer push-ups, pullups, lunges or lat pulldowns than you could if you wore the expensive stuff. 

This is absurd! My Under Armour and Nike clothing is obviously superior to Old Navy’s fraudulent activewear line!

Let me guess: Your mom never made you wear Xanthus shoes to gym class?